Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?
Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.
Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.
This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!
(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.
These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)
How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.
Paul wrote this to Timothy after going over the qualifications for pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The standards Paul laid out are not easily attained. Paul completes the discussion, though, by telling Timothy that he has written these things so that he will know how people in the family of God should behave, and then writes the verse above. This last verse gives us insight into Jesus’ life, which Paul believes will help us live up to the standards that God has set out.
First, Paul says that “He was manifested in the flesh.” Jesus came to earth as one of us - a human being Who encountered all the temptations we will ever encounter, yet He remained without sin. He eventually gave up His life on a cross, so that through His sacrifice, we can escape Hell and obtain Heaven. However, He did not stay dead - three days later, He resurrected! Just this part is a great “mystery,” but it should inspire us to do what we can to make sure that His sacrifice is as effectual as it can be. Whenever one person accepts His finished work as payment for their sins, it does not diminish the grace remaining for everyone else; just like the old hymn “There’s Room at the Cross” says, “Though millions have come, there’s still room for one.”
Second, Paul writes that He was “justified in the Spirit.” During the three days that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, He was in the Spirit, taking our punishment. He was separated from God (the only time that has ever happened or will ever happen), being tormented for our sin. Through this, He was justified, and we can be justified as well. This payment is complete.
Third, Paul writes that Jesus was “seen by angels.” Wouldn’t that have been great to see - how the angels must have welcomed Him! I’m not sure if this is talking about the angels that stayed behind in the now-empty tomb, or if this was the host of angels in Heaven who saw Him. But, either way, I’m sure they must have been excited to see Him alive again. He had done what had been promised more than 4,000 years prior, and through it defeated Satan for good.
Fourth, Paul says that He was “preached among the Gentiles.” This was important for Timothy, as it is for most of us reading this. As John wrote…
The Jews of that day, for the most part, rejected Him. But, He still came to earth to not only save the Jews, but to extend that salvation to the rest of us (Gentiles) as well. He Himself preached among Gentiles, and after He ascended back to Heaven, He continued to be preached to Gentiles.
Fifth, Paul says that He was “believed on in the world.” This shows that, even though Paul was writing to Timothy early in the life of the church, many had already believed on Jesus, and accepted His payment for their sins. It’s always encouraging to have an example, someone who has come before you and accomplished the same thing you want to accomplish. Paul is encouraging Timothy and the believers at his church, letting them know that others have believed on Him, and already obtained the forgiveness they desired.
Finally, Paul says that He was “taken up in glory.” Jesus did not stay on earth once He had resurrected - He returned to Heaven. This is important, and it ties in both with what Jesus said, and with what Paul had written to others. Jesus said…
2In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.
16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.
So, how do you understand mysteries? I don’t know. :) There are still things about what Paul has written that I don’t understand. But, what I do know is that we can understand the parts of this mystery that Paul wrote to Timothy. Each of these parts points back to a central theme - Jesus’ finished work of salvation. Because we have received this salvation, we should live as those who have been forgiven, and encourage others to accept this gift as well.
John is reminding the recipients of his letter that Jesus provided the ultimate example when it came to love. He gave everything for us. But one of the most amazing parts of His sacrifice is that it was just that - a sacrifice. No one took Jesus and killed Him against His will. In fact, Jesus mentioned in John 10:17-18 that He would lay His life down willingly.
17This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.
Jesus’ sacrifice is truly our example. But, if we were saved, and then died for someone else, there wouldn’t be very many Christians around! Giving up our lives is noble, and there are many who have done that for others - military people, police, and firefighters risk that and often make that ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man. But rather than put our lives on the line, this should remind us that anything God asks us to do less than that is really no trouble at all. Laying down our lives can just mean giving up something of ours for the benefit of someone else.
13No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.